With a persistent shortage of child-care services, despite a growing crop of entrepreneurs in the sector, a new state-funded grant program aims to help those businesses launch or expand.
Gov. Janet Mills announced Wednesday that $10 million is available through the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan to help Mainers open child-care businesses in their homes, transform existing buildings into quality child-care spaces, and construct new child-care facilities.
Existing child-care providers can also use the funding to expand the number of children they serve. Priority is given to sites in rural areas, that care for infants and toddlers, and participate in the child-care subsidy program.
The program is expected to support more than 3,500 new child-care slots, which could in turn help 2,000 parents pursue career and educational opportunities.
“Investing in child-care infrastructure grants reduce cost barriers for start-up child-care businesses and program expansion,” Tara Williams, executive director of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, said in a news release.
The Child Care Infrastructure Grant Program is part of a $25 million state initiative that also includes $15 million for early childhood education.
An additional $5.4 million for the program was included in the supplemental budget and will be distributed this fall.
“Maine’s current and future workforce depends on accessible, affordable child care,” Mills said. “Not only do working parents need a safe place to send their kids during the day, but research shows that successful early care and education programs can boost academic outcomes and even high school graduation rates.”
Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services is administering the grant program through a partnership with Brunswick-based Coastal Enterprises Inc. The money can be used for new construction, renovations, outdoor spaces, indoor furniture and fixtures, educational materials and working capital.
“Lack of child care keeps parents out of work, affecting a family’s economic well-being and causing a ripple effect of lower participation in Maine’s workforce,” Keith Bisson, CEI’s president.
Applications for new family or home-based child-care businesses opened first, to encourage new providers in Maine’s rural areas, beginning this week through May 2024. Home-based child-care businesses may apply for 75% of their start-up costs, up to $8,500.
Applications for new construction of child-care centers and expansion of existing child-care providers will be announced by August.
New family child-care businesses licensed by Sept. 30, 2023, are also eligible for a one-time $2,000 stipend.